Kevin Betsy has had less than a week to work with Arsenal’s U23 squad but he will take charge of the team for the first time when the new season gets underway against West Ham United at London Stadium on Monday night.
That was the venue where Arsenal won the Premier League 2 title in 2018, but it remains to be seen whether the young Gunners can ascend to such heights this time around. Indeed, an improvement on last season, when the U23s narrowly avoided relegation, would be a step forward.
Development, of course, takes precedence over results at youth level, but it is important for youngsters to establish a winning habit early on in their careers.
Arsenal have looked to move on some of the older youngsters this summer, either permanently or on loan, but there is still much work to do until the transfer window closes.
The following players would all benefit from loan spells this season: Tim Akinola, Ryan Alebiosu, Ben Cottrell, Jonathan Dinzeyi, George Lewis, Joel Lopez, Jordan McEneff, James Olayinka and Zak Swanson.
Whether Arsenal can get deals done for all of them before the end of August is uncertain but it is important that there is space for the next crop of players to come through to the U23s.
This is Omar Rekik’s first full season at Arsenal, but the centre-back, who is already a Tunisia senior international, will add some relative experience to the defence, while Miguel Azeez’s creativity in midfield should be very useful.
New signing Mika Biereth will be aiming to hit the ground running, while the likes of Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, Mazeed Ogungbo, Alex Kirk, Joel Ideho, Salah-Eddine, Ovie Ejeheri and Kido Taylor-Hart should be heavily involved given that they are no longer eligible to play for the U18s. Catalin Cirjan, however, is expected to miss the start of the season through injury.
As ever, one of the most interesting aspects of U23s football is when younger players make the step up, and it is anticipated that prospects such as Charlie Patino, Omari Hutchinson, Marcelo Flores, Jack Henry-Francis and Brooke Norton-Cuffy could get plenty of playing time even though they can still represent the U18s. Zane Monlouis, meanwhile, already possesses a considerable amount of experience at this level.
As the season goes on it is likely that further U18s will be involved with the U23s, with players such as Khayon Edwards, Amani Richards, Mauro Bandeira, Charles Sagoe Jr and Amario Cozier-Duberry pushing for involvement.
A former midfielder himself, Betsy will have to ensure that Arsenal have the right balance in that area of the pitch. Azeez and Patino are two of Arsenal’s best prospects but don’t complement each other particularly well, so a more defensive-minded midfielder, such as Henry-Francis or Bandeira, may be of use in some situations.
Arsenal’s defence also remains vulnerable. It is hoped that Rekik will hope to improve matters, but Monlouis, despite possessing a lot of potential, is rather error prone. Alex Kirk is developing well but is still quite raw.
In attack, though, Arsenal should pose a significant threat, especially if Hutchinson and Taylor-Hart play either side of Biereth.
Some members of the first-team squad, such as Arthur Okonkwo and Folarin Balogun, could also drop down to the U23s for games at times this season.
Arsenal U23 squad
Goalkeepers – Hein, Hillson, Ejeheri, Graczyk
Defenders – Alebiosu, Dinzeyi, Kirk, Lopez, Ogungbo, Rekik, Swanson
Midfielders – Azeez, Cottrell, Cirjan, Salah-Eddine, Akinola, Olayinka, McEneff
Wingers/Forwards – Butler-Oyedeji, Taylor-Hart, Biereth, Lewis, Ideho
Others on professional contracts: Awe, Flores, Hutchinson, Monlouis, Norton-Cuffy, Patino
U18s previously called up to U23s: Bandeira, Edwards, Foran, Henry-Francis, Gaspar, Jeffcott, Mitchell, Sagoe Jr, Richards, Ibrahim, Cozier-Duberry, Davies.
First-team players classed as U23s: Okonkwo, Balogun, Saka, Martinelli, Smith Rowe, Tavares, Nelson, Lokonga, Willock, Nketiah